After reading a story by Ernest Hemingway in Cosmopolitan called ‘One Trip Across’ (a short story that became part of To Have and Have Not), Arnold Samuelson, an adventurous 22-year-old, decided to travel 2,000 miles to meet Hemingway and ask him for advice. He hitched his way to Florida and then hopped a freight train from the mainland to Key West.
When I knocked on the front door of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, he came out and stood squarely in front of me, squinty with annoyance, waiting for me to speak. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t recall a word of my prepared speech. He was a big man, tall, narrow-hipped, wide-shouldered, and he stood with his feet spread apart, his arms hanging at his sides. He was crouched forward slightly with his weight on his toes, in the instinctive poise of a fighter ready to hit.
“What do you want?” said Hemingway.
“I read your story ‘One Trip Across’ in Cosmopolitan. I liked it so much I came down to have a talk with you.”
“Why the hell didn’t you say you just wanted to chew the fat? I thought you wanted to visit.”
The author of For Whom the Bell Tolls told Samuelson he was busy, but invited him to come back the next afternoon. So when he returned to the house, the 22-year-old boy found Hemingway sitting in his porch. He brought up his failed attempts at writing fiction, and Hemingway gave him a piece of advice.
The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time. Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.
Then, the writer advised Samuelson to avoid contemporary writers, and asked him if he had read War and Peace. He answered no, and Hemingway said he would make out a list he ought to read.
1. The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane.
2. The Open Boat by Stephen Crane.
3. Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
4. Dubliners by James Joyce.
5. The Red and the Black by Sthendal.
6. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham.
7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
8. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
9. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.
10. Hail and Farewell by George Moore.
11. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
13. The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings.
14. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
15. Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson.
16. The American by Henry James.